Ray DeMonia, 73, was born and raised in Cullman, Ala., but he died on Sept. 1, some 200 miles away in an intensive care unit in Meridian, Miss.
Last month, DeMonia, who spent 40 years in the antiques and auctions business, suffered a cardiac emergency. But it was because hospitals are full due to the coronavirus — and not his heart — that he was forced to spend his last days so far from home, according to his family.
"Due to COVID 19, CRMC emergency staff contacted 43 hospitals in 3 states in search of a Cardiac ICU bed and finally located one in Meridian, MS.," the last paragraph of DeMonia's obituary reads, referring to the Cullman Regional Medical Center.
"In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non COVID related emergencies ... ," the obituary reads. "He would not want any other family to go through what his did."
The challenge for DeMonia's family members to find proper care for their loved one comes amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases that have strained many ICUs to the breaking point once again as the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus spreads. Although some people infected after vaccination do require hospitalization, a study released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that unvaccinated people were far more likely to become infected, to be hospitalized and to die from COVID-19.
"Looking at cases over the past two months, when the delta variant was the predominant variant circulating in this country, those who were unvaccinated were about 4 1/2 times more likely to get COVID-19, over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die from the disease," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC's director, said last week at a White House briefing.
ICU capacity in Alabama has been maxed out in recent weeks, and COVID-19 patients occupy about half of the intensive care beds, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Speaking last week, Dr. Scott Harris, the head of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the state was continuing to experience "a real crisis" with ICU bed capacity.
"We have had a little bit of a plateau over the last week. I'm very thankful for that," he said, adding, "The numbers aren't great. But the numbers at least have not continued to go up."
DeMonia's daughter, Raven DeMonia, told The Washington Post that it was "shocking" when the hospital told the family there were no ICU beds anywhere near Cullman, a town of about 16,000 some 50 miles north of Birmingham.
"It was like, 'What do you mean?' " after learning that her father would be airlifted to Mississippi, she told the Post. "I never thought this would happen to us."
NPR attempted without success to reach the DeMonia family.
A Cullman Regional Medical Center spokesperson, who declined to give specifics of Ray DeMonia's case, citing privacy concerns, confirmed to NPR that he was transferred from the hospital but said the reason was that he required "a higher level of specialized care not available" there.
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